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NYC Council Moves to Ban Biometric Tech in Businesses and Residential Buildings

NYC Council Moves to Ban Biometric Tech in Businesses and Residential Buildings

During a recent oversight hearing, the New York City Council reviewed two legislative proposals that aim to prohibit the use of biometric recognition technology in certain businesses and residential buildings. This move targets establishments such as music venues, theaters, and supermarkets, as well as residential settings, to prevent them from using biometric systems to identify customers.

These proposed local laws are revisited versions of bills previously discussed by the Council’s Committee on Technology. Last year, similar measures sought to restrict biometric surveillance and data collection across the city. Council Member Shahana Hanif, the primary sponsor of the business-related ban, emphasized the growing urgency of these laws due to increasing concerns over the collection, storage, and security of biometric data. She highlighted a significant development where the Federal Trade Commission revealed that RiteAid’s use of facial recognition technology disproportionately and erroneously targeted people of color and women as likely shoplifters, including in New York City.

Kelly Moan, the city’s Chief Information Security Officer and head of the New York City Cyber Command, provided testimony on her office’s efforts to address the risks associated with sensitive data collection. She detailed ongoing collaborations with private entities like banks and hospitals to enhance data protection through training initiatives. Moan underlined the importance of strong cross-sector partnerships in cybersecurity but noted that the proposed legislation regarding residential use of biometric technology does not fall under her office’s purview. She affirmed the administration’s commitment to balancing privacy with public safety in emerging technologies while remaining neutral on the bills themselves.

Council Member Jennifer Gutierrez, chair of the technology committee, expressed frustration over the lack of specific information from Moan regarding her office’s actions to safeguard city systems and critical infrastructure. While recognizing the need for confidentiality in certain areas, several committee members found the absence of detailed responses concerning.

Jake Parker, spokesperson for the Security Industry Association, argued against the complete ban of biometric technology. He suggested that a total prohibition could limit consumer choices and the methods available for identity verification and security. Parker highlighted the widespread adoption of biometric technology in various sectors, including sports arenas and grocery stores, since the initial consideration of the ban. He warned that overly restrictive laws could adversely affect small businesses, as evidenced by similar legislation in other states.

New York’s proposed law would allow businesses that require biometric technology for core functions, such as gait analysis in a custom running shoe store, to continue using it with customer consent. However, these businesses would be obligated to implement protective measures for collected data and disclose their policies on its use.

Parker concluded by stating that the voluntary implementation of biometric technology provides convenience and enhanced security, and a ban would unjustly remove these benefits from businesses and consumers alike.